Women should be driving the bus!

As WIZO women, we strongly believe that women should not have to sit at the back of the bus, nor in the middle of the bus, but should be driving the bus.

Tova Ben-Dov 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tova Ben-Dov 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization founded in 1920 in Great Britain with the prime aim of improving the lives of women in the fledgling Yishuv, has fought for the advancement of the status of women in the home, in society and in the workplace for over 90 years.
Last week, as 800 delegates from Jewish federations throughout the world met in Tel Aviv at the 25th Enlarged General Meeting of the movement, we celebrated the power and strength of our movement, and of Jewish women in their communities around the world.
It is therefore hard to explain why there has been a backlash just recently against a growing phenomenon in Israel, that of the exclusion of women in the public arena. As WIZO women, we strongly believe that women should not have to sit at the back of the bus, nor in the middle of the bus, but should be driving the bus – and deciding in which direction that bus should travel.
Gender equality education has to begin at a very early age, and carry on through the whole schooling system, giving girls and boys the same educational opportunities.
When they enroll in the army, every girl and boy should have an equal chance to proudly wear the uniform of a pilot, or steer a submarine.
No woman should fear violence from her partner, and every woman should know that she is equal in the eyes of the law, deserving an equal salary for the same job as her male coworker.
The problem is far deeper than being told where to sit on the bus, and could have a long-term effect on every aspect of life here – although it is the result of a minority enforcing its ways on the majority.
Every Friday night, when the family comes together, loving Jewish husbands praise their wives reciting the “Eshet Chayil” prayer, which tells of the woman who decides which field to buy, the woman who plants a vineyard, and who is like a merchant ship, bringing bread from afar. Our biblical woman had the deepest respect and love of her husband, and was an equal partner in the finances of the family. Yet over the centuries, women’s rights have been continually eroded, until today women are expected, in some societies, to ride at the back of the bus, not to sing in public, and to walk on opposite sidewalks.
Women today, who represent slightly more than half of Israel’s population, are struggling for for equal rights in the Jewish nation, and it is the result of that struggle which will determine whether we are viewed as an enlightened, modern state.
Women are a vital component in the economy of the country. The nation’s economy gains when mothers are free to establish careers and earn salaries, but today, many women who could be earning salaries have to stay at home because they can’t afford trustworthy care for their small children. They are being punished for choosing to become mothers! Only legislation can stem the loss of women’s self-esteem, and improve family finances, by supporting early age education and the construction of more child care facilities across the country.
In addition, when a woman has the independence that comes from earning her own salary, domestic violence is less threatening.
We still have a long way to go. Job discrimination based on gender is still evident and women often have no choice but to accept less payment than men for the same work.
Women don’t have equal representation in politics, or public and government offices, and have to be empowered so that they, too, can hold key positions.
WIZO believes that society as a whole will benefit when women have respect and equal opportunities.
Justice has always been WIZO’s watchword. Accordingly, WIZO’s country-wide legal advice bureaus give legal aid and advice to any woman who is a victim of gender discrimination or harassment at home, or in the workplace.
Today, Israel is standing at a historical crossroads. We must move forward into the light and not retract into the dark. We are full, contributing partners in a democratic society. Each one of us is a true Eshet Chayil, as envisioned by King Solomon.
Today, the power, and strength, of 800 WIZO leaders from 50 WIZO federations around the world, coming together, will help shape Israel’s future, and the future of Jewish women, wherever they may be.
The writer is the the new president of WIZO.